Trump’s Don­ald-come-lately em­pa­thy

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks­dricks@balt­

In his ef­fort at trans­for­ma­tion from birther-in-chief to Repub­li­can cham­pion of African-Amer­i­cans, Don­aldJ. Trump­claim­s­theDemo­cratic Party has left pre­dom­i­nantly black neigh­bor­hoods — I as­sume he means city neigh­bor­hoods — in sham­bles. He as­serts that Democrats have “failed and be­trayed” African-Amer­i­cans, de­spite be­ing the po­lit­i­cal party most sup­port­ive of mi­nori­ties, civil rights and ur­ban life over the last 50 years.

“They’ve taken African-Amer­i­cans for granted,” Trump said last month. “They just as­sume they’ll get their sup­port. They’ve taken ad­van­tage of the African-Amer­i­can citizen. It’s time to give the Democrats some com­pe­ti­tion for these votes. ... I’m ask­ing for the vote of every African-Amer­i­can citizen strug­gling in our coun­try to­day who wants a dif­fer­ent and much bet­ter fu­ture.” Trump’s plea: “What do you have to lose?” In North Carolina, Trump said: “Our AfricanAmer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties are ab­so­lutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in be­fore. Ever, ever, ever.” This broad-stroke char­ac­ter­i­za­tion re­veals a de­tached, sub­ur­ban vi­sion of city neigh­bor­hoods, and it over­looks a lot of his­tory, start­ing with slav­ery, and re­cent so­cioe­co­nomic gains. It’s hard to be­lieve Trump has spent any time at all in work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties of color.

In Mon­day night’s de­bate, he went at it again, re­fer­ring to crime-plagued mi­nor­ity neigh­bor­hoods as “hell,” a rare ex­pres­sion of em­pa­thy. The prob­lem is, Trump’s so­lu­tion is to bring back stop-and-frisk polic­ing, and at a time when po­lice and com­mu­nity lead­ers are try­ing to re­build trust and move away from prac­tices, such as stop-and-frisk and zero-tol­er­ance, that tar­geted mi­nori­ties dis­pro­por­tion­ately.

It shows what a tin ear he has when it comes to ur­ban pol­icy, propos­ing more of the ag­gres­sive mea­sures that soured po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tions in many neigh­bor­hoods and ul­ti­mately un­der­cut the ef­fec­tive­ness of law en­force­ment.

But here’s the thing: This elec­tionyear pitch of Trump’s to AfricanAmer­i­cans rings hol­low, given the record of the party he rep­re­sents. Democrats might have failed to cure ur­ban ills, but at least they’ve been in the game. Cur­rently 25 of the na­tion’s 30 largest cities have Demo­cratic may­ors.

Trump’sdumponDemocrat­sre­mindsme­ofa re­frain of sev­eral read­ers of The Bal­ti­more Sun af­ter the death of Fred­die Gray and un­rest that hit West Bal­ti­more on the day of his funeral in the spring of 2015. It goes like this:

Democrats have failed Bal­ti­more. They left its ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion with a high rate of homi­cide and home­less­ness, poverty and va­cant houses, low-per­form­ing schools and a high prop­erty tax rate. The writ­ers said the peo­ple of Bal­ti­more would be bet­ter off if they gave Repub­li­can lead­er­ship a chance, and they cited Mary­land’s gover­nor, Larry Ho­gan, as the kind of man who could make a dif­fer­ence here.

“Give Larry Ho­gan time to help clean out the city of Bal­ti­more,” a reader named Beth Lund wrote. “These crooked politi­cians have played these poor peo­ple in Bal­ti­more for far too long.”

“Since 1967 Bal­ti­more has had seven may­ors, all Demo­crat,” wrote Mark Wil­son. “As far as I can see Bal­ti­more has done a great job of vot­ing in their own prob­lems.”

“Nooneparty has all the an­swers,” wrote Rick Franz, “but af­ter the bet­ter part of a cen­tury, the Democrats have proven they surely don’t.”

As I’ve pointed out in the past, blam­ing Demo­cratic politi­cians for all that ails the city is easy­be­cau­seit’syouron­ly­choice. Thecity­has­not had a Repub­li­can mayor since Theodore Roo­sevelt McKeldin left the of­fice in 1967, as the era of white flight be­gan in earnest. Since then, their power base hav­ing shifted to the sub­urbs, Repub­li­cans showed lit­tle in­ter­est in city life. Mean­while, Bal­ti­morewent­through­bigchanges: the ex­o­dus of a third of its post-World War II pop­u­la­tion, theshrinkingofit­staxbase, th­elos­sof in­dus­try, decades of drug ad­dic­tion and con­cen­trated poverty.

Cu­ri­ous if Repub­li­cans were ever a power in the city, I turned to Matthew Cren­son, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity and au­thor of a forth­com­ing po­lit­i­cal his­tory of Bal­ti­more.

“Prior to McKeldin, the city had sev­eral Repub­li­can may­ors,” Cren­son says. “The city must have had a sub­stan­tial Repub­li­can vot­ing bloc. Un­til the De­pres­sion, most black vot­ers were re­li­ably Repub­li­can.”

Her­bert Hoover, the Repub­li­can can­di­date for pres­i­dent, car­ried the city in 1928.

“But that’s an­cient his­tory,” says Cren­son. “The peo­ple who blame Democrats for the cur­rent con­di­tion of Amer­i­can cities for­get that cities are sub­ject to state over­sight and heav­ily de­pen­dent on state aid. Most states are con­trolled by Repub­li­cans. Mary­land usu­ally isn’t one of them, but no mat­ter who con­trolled An­napo­lis, the city was pretty con­sis­tently treated like a colo­nial pos­ses­sion.”

So, it’s sim­plis­tic to blame the city’s slide on one-party rule. At the same time, I agree with my sub­ur­ban read­ers that one-party rule is not healthy. Repub­li­cans, there­fore, ought to con­sider mov­ing to Bal­ti­more to help re­pop­u­late the city. Oth­er­wise, please spare us the long-dis­tance lec­tures about how the Democrats have failed.

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